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Chilli Pepper: The Widest Used Spice in the World

As a little boy, I always loved to watch western movies where the Mexican cowboys always ate beans and pepper. On the other hand I always thought of chilli pepper as being associated with Asian cuisine. I’ve been in Singapore now for five years, so it is about a time I explored more...

Believe it or not, chilli peppers originated in Mexico with notes from 6000 years ago. It is only after the Columbian exchange, where many varieties of chilli pepper spread across the world during the 16th century. Chilli peppers were brought to Asia by Portuguese sailors through the Indian region of Goa, from where it traveled back through Central Asia and Turkey to Hungary, where it became the national spice in the form of paprika.

Peppers are publicly recognised within three groups: bell peppers, sweet peppers and hot peppers and there are five main domestic species of chilli pepper: Capsicum annuum (bell peppers, cayenne, jalapenos from New Mexico), Capsicum frutescens (malagueta, tabasco and Thai peppers, piri piri), Capsicum chinense (includes the hottest peppers such as naga, habanero, datil and scotch bonnet), Capsicum pubescens (includes rocoto peppers) and Capsicum baccatum and its aji peppers.

Chilli or chilli pepper if you like is the fruit of plants from genus capsicum from the variety of Solanaceae, which contain substance called capsaicinoids which give the chilli their “hot, burning, spicy” intensity. The Scoville heat index ranks peppers from the mildest (0) to the hottest (over 1,000,000).

The peppers were not only cultivated for its culinary and medicinal use. For the contrast in colour and appearance chilli become an ornamental plant or as an irritant form of less-lethal weapon called pepper spray. Interestingly enough it became a crop defense. In Africa and Asia elephants were destroying crops and raiding grain houses which sometimes ended up with dead people. Farmers found that growing chillies around their crops would stop elephants from feeding on the crops mainly due to very sensitive olfactory and nasal system of elephants.

All different types of chilli are used fresh, dried, powdered and fermented across different cuisines. Aztecs has been drinking chocolate with hint of chilli, which has been used as an aphrodisiac. In several different cuisines fresh, dried and fermented chilies has been used for spicy sauces such as Tabasco, Cholula, harissa, chili oil, sriracha and many others.

What Chilli ranking is the highest you’ve tried?

The traditional Mexican chaser for tequila is called Sangrita and here's a recipe for you:

2 medium cucumbers, each about 1 1/2 inches in diameter 1/2 dried ancho chile, stemmed and seeded 1/2 cup fresh orange juice 1/2 cup fresh tomato juice 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice 1 tablespoon minced onion 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce Salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Cut each cucumber two times 3 and 1/2 inch lengths from each piece to use as a cups.

2. Peel the pieces, leaving half band of the peel from one end of each.

3. Using the melon baller, scoop out the seeds, stopping just before reaching the bottom.

4. Keep the cucumber cups in the fridge for min 10 min.

5. Toast the ancho chile over moderate heat until it begins to blister.

6. Combine toasted ancho chile with rest of the ingredients in blender, and shortly blend on high speed. 7. Pour Sangrita into cucumber cups and serve with a side of tequila.

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